Why some Latinos support Trump, and why they shouldn’t




A supporter of President Donald Trump holds a 'Latinos for Trump' sign at a campaign rally. Photo by Mario Tama | Getty Images

It was billed as a “Latinos for Trump” roundtable. 

It turned out to be more of a rally, replete with a motley crew of opportunists, sycophants, complicitors and unfortunate true believers, all dutifully gathered to pay tribute to the self-proclaimed “chosen one.”

Trump’s visit to Arizona last week was part of his campaign’s push to lock down support ahead of Election Day. The president is running behind his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, nationwide and in most key swing states, including Arizona, where one in four eligible voters is Latino.

On the morning after Trump’s stopover in Phoenix, I got a call from an old friend who, clearly befuddled, posed what to many might seem an obvious question: “Why in the hell would any Latinos vote for Trump?”

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for the past four years. Depending on whose exit polls you believe, Trump earned somewhere between 20% and 29% of the Latino vote in 2016, and pollsters say he’ll probably come close to repeating that performance this year. 

First, as any political scientist worth their weight knows, Latino voters are not a monolith, ethnically, racially, politically, economically or otherwise.

Our community has conservatives, moderates and liberals. Some of us lean hard right and others far left. We practice every major faith and some of us, yes, are godless. We’re working class, middle class and wealthy. We’re lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers, artists, farm workers and entrepreneurs. We’re gay, straight, transgender, Black, White, Brown and everything in between.

In other words, we’re a lot like non-Latinos.

Then again, we’re not. You see, as a community, despite our undeniable diversity, we share a range of historical, cultural and linguistic ties that bind us in variantly nuanced and overt ways.

In other words, we’re a lot like non-Latinos.

While I happen to be a registered independent, I concluded long ago that “real” Latinos are not all registered Democrats and most Latino Republicans are not vendidos, or sellouts. Some in the GOP, to paraphrase our president, are very good people.

I may not agree with the traditional principles of the GOP — small government, free-market conservatism, anti-abortion rights, etc. — but no one can convince me that Trump comes anywhere close to living up to the Republican Party’s time-tested tenets.

In truth, the man is a consummate fraud. Maybe the greatest con man in U.S. history. The only “values” Trump lives by are greed, corruption, and insatiable lust for power. And, to quote retired Marine Corp. Gen. Jim Mattis, Trump’s former defense secretary, the man is “dangerous” and “unfit” to be president.

So, why do some Latinos back him? Let’s look at the folks who attended last week’s so-called roundtable discussion. 

  • The opportunists: Like all opportunists, they want something they think only Trump can give them — namely, power or money. Trump is rich, and his wealth and gift for demagoguery helped make him the most powerful man in the world. Stick with Trump, the logic goes, and some of wealth and power might just rub off.
  • The sycophants: In common parlance, we call them brown-nosers or suck-ups. They may or may not be all that ambitious, but they know a willingness to humiliate themselves comes with benefits — a White House appointment perhaps.
  • The complicitors: Here’s where things get dark. So what if Trump tried to bribe a foreign leader to help him cheat in his race for the White House? If that’s what it takes to win, complicitors say, “So be it!” What’s that, the president thinks that troops who die in battle are “suckers” and “losers”? Complicitors say, “I’m sure he was kidding.” What? Trump hasn’t confronted Vladimir Putin about reports that the Russian strongman is shelling out bounties to terrorists who assassinate U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan? “Give the guy a break,” say complicitors. “Trump’s got a lot on his plate.” Like another golf outing.
  • The true believers: This is the saddest bunch of all. These are all the folks who, for whatever reason, have fallen lock, stock and barrel for the president’s “big lie,” which has actually spawned thousands of other lies. Trump’s big lie is that he actually gives a damn about anyone but himself. 

Mi gente, my people, get a clue. 

I get it. As a true believer you may think he’s given you a big tax break. Or he’s tough on illegal immigration. (Never mind that this country was founded by undocumented immigrants.) Or he’s keeping the country from socializing health care — you know, like Medicare. Or he’s appointing judges who are going to ban abortion (even though three-quarters of Americans want the Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade). Or maybe Trump’s somehow convinced you that the global pandemic, which has already killed 200,000 people in the U.S, is a hoax and he has done everything he can to protect us — neither of which are true.

True believer or not, the trouble is that, on top of everything else, Trump is an absolute racist. 

Latino or not, to deny that is to be complicit in his racism.

Not since President Herbert Hoover blamed the nation’s 25% unemployment rate during the Great Depression on Mexican immigrants — instead of the Wall Street titans who had crashed the economy — and then engineered the mass deportation of an estimated 1 million Mexicans and Mexican Americans (yes, U.S. citizens were summarily deported based solely on the color of their skin) has an American president shown such unmitigated disdain for people of Latino descent.

Even Hoover didn’t have the depravity to order federal agents to rip migrant children, in some cases infants, from the arms of their parents and lock them in cages like feral animals.

No human being deserves to be treated this way. Like all Americans, Latinos deserve and have earned the requisites of our full, constitutionally-sanctioned citizenship.

While it is true that this country hasn’t always treated us with dignity and respect, as this nation’s largest single community of color, now 60 million strong, Latinos have worked too hard and come too far as a people to let a master charlatan intent on usurping our democracy steal our destiny.

James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He is the editor and publisher of Vanguardia Arizona, which covers Latino news statewide, and the weekly newsletter Vanguardia America. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught writing, ethnic studies, theater and Latino politics at ASU. He is the producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co. and the author of more than 30 plays.